After more than 20 years of doing business, the Kayak Experience is closing its doors for good.
Owner and operator Marlice Brown is gearing up for a new adventure, joining her husband in the world of retirement.
After being around boats since she could walk, Brown got her start in the business world with a marine bookstore in Destin, but when computers started taking over, she decided to start selling kayaks.
“There was a dealer in Fort Walton that I had bought my first kayak from that had gone out of business and I had some friends that wanted similar boats,” Brown said. “So I decided I would look into it and see if I could become the local dealer.”
Starting with just four or five boats in a room of the bookstore in 1996, it wasn’t long before Brown decided to make kayaks her full-time job. In 1997, Brown moved the business to the current building on the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Benning Drive in Destin. At first, she just used the front room of the bottom floor of the two story building, but eventually expanded to use the whole bottom level as well as a building across the parking lot for storage.
The business owner said the amount of customers she saw come in grew gradually until about seven or eight years ago when the popularity of paddleboards took off.
“That was a turning point,” she said. “The paddleboard craze took a big chunk out of it (the kayak community).”
Since then, she’s seen business slow down a bit but she still has customers coming in almost every day.
“Some of the local stores send their people here because they don’t have anybody who knows anything about (kayaks),” Brown said.
Brown said they’re the only Eddyline dealer around for miles and have seen people come in from all over the country for them.
“We’ve had people from Virginia, Michigan,” Brown said. “They come down for the beach but they also want to try out a kayak.”
The first thing Brown does when someone walks into her shop wanting a kayak is ask questions.
“I’ll find out where they want to take it and what they want to do with it,” she said. “We do a demo day once a month where we let people try them out and we let them see if they’re comfortable or not.”
That knowledge and desire to help someone find the right kayak for them is something Brown said sets her shop apart from others.
“That’s one thing we’ve been priding ourselves on all these years,” Brown said. “We try to match the person to a boat that’s appropriate ‘cause there are different size boats for different sized people.”
After turning 70 years old this year, Brown decided to close up shop and spend more time relaxing and less time driving. The Grayton Beach resident said she’s looking forward to spending more time with family in Connecticut and at her husband’s fishing camp in Port St. Joe.
But she’s not hanging up her paddles yet; Brown said customers can still call her for sales or repairs.
“I’ll still have the same phone number and the website will still be up,” she said. “My manufacturers have all said they’re still going to work with me.”
The licensed boat captain doesn’t have a time frame for how long she’ll work independently but she’s keeping her options open since there isn’t anyone else locally who does what she does.
Her store is currently running a retirement sale and will officially close its doors Sept. 30.
“It’s very strange,” Brown said about this chapter of her life coming to a close. “It’s gonna be real different because I’ve been on this property for 30 years and coming to work every day.”